People often ask me: “What exactly is engagement and PPI?” and “What am I actually meant to do?”. Commonly followed up by bemused “I have read the national, regional, professional guidance… but I still don’t understand” and the more decisive “I do know I want it to be meaningful!”. But how should one answer these questions?
My first experience of engaging public and service users in research was with a small number of parents who agreed to become part of a steering group for my PhD research in 2007-09. I’d done a lot of thinking around how to do it, had sought advice, and had done my best to follow the guidance and thinking available. But it all left a very tokenistic taste in my mouth – and I always wonder if in theirs too – despite my best intentions and efforts for the opposite. I too came out of it convinced that if I was ever to do it again it had to me meaningful.
Since then, over the years, the members of our CHILD Research Group have undertaken various research engagement activities. Collectively we have become better at PPI and enagement. However, I still don’t think we have a clear answer to the questions above. About how to do it, and especially about how to do it well and meaningfully. Personally, I am not even sure if there is one simple answer to those questions… And yet, answering those questions is important for enabling good engagement and moving forward with our engagement methods.
To explore a range of potential views to the question of how to do meaningful engagement, we have decided to share our experiences of engagement from the past couple of years. We will reflect on what better and worse research engagement looks like to our CHILD team, the mistakes we have made and learnings from them, as well as the things that have worked really well.
So this present post is the launch of a series of posts on our Group’s experiences of engagement.
We will do the sharing in the spirit of open learning, and we do not claim to be experts. Many people have written about engagement and PPI, its philosophical underpinnings, and the various approaches and methods to engagement and PPI. Our focus will be more on the practical, lived experience of trying to apply some of these ideas with diverse populations of young children and their families.
As a wider context, and a premise to the series, it is worth saying that as a Group, we seek to engage and involve children and parents in our research at different stages of the research cycle: at the planning, during, and the end of a project. We do this to address important topics and respect the wishes and preferences of families, to plan and run our studies well; and to make sense of the findings and evidence that the project has generated.
We have made the comments and feedback feature open, and very much look forward to and welcome your thoughts!